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November 2021

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Illinois Local Powers New Rock 'n' Roll Museum

Historic Route 66 is about to get a new rock 'n' roll museum and Joliet, Ill., Local 176 members helped make it happen.

"Working on the museum was unique, challenging and rewarding," said Local 176 Business Manager Mike Clemmons. "Doing electrical work on a building that is nearly 100 years old is not something that our members are faced with every day. Once we did the evaluation, it became evident that this was not going to be a typical electrical remodeling project."

Route 66, which begins in Illinois and used to take travelers all the way to California, has long been associated with Americana and music. Now there's a museum to commemorate Illinois' musical contributions, from REO Speedwagon and Cheap Trick to Muddy Waters and Chess Records, the storied rhythm and blues record label.

The historic three-story building in downtown Joliet, built in 1930, required a number of upgrades, which is where Local 176 comes in. Roughly 12 apprentices and members worked on the building through last fall and winter, as well as some additional work done in the spring and summer. They did significant lighting upgrades, reworked several power distribution panels and added power supply outlets where necessary. Members will also work on future upgrades as needed.

It was especially educational for the apprentices who tend to work on new construction projects, not dealing with 90-year-old technology.

"They really liked it," said Business Agent Andy Rico, who also worked on the project. "It used to be incandescent lights and fuses, and now it's LEDs and circuit breakers."

Rico says they were able to use a few old openings, but they were mostly starting from scratch.

"All the mechanical systems were different back then," said Rico who did an initial evaluation and assessment of the structure. "It's really something to see how far the technology of our trade has come."

The building, located in downtown Joliet, has a historic designation, meaning that the façade must be maintained, but just about any changes can be made inside. One thing that was kept in place indoors was the exposed pipe as a way to maintain the original look and feel, which Rico said allowed the apprentices to see their finished work more than they typically would.

"The apprentices like seeing their work," Rico said. "It's cool to go back and visit."

In terms of new technology, the museum has large display boards, like flat panel TVs, and new showroom lighting. And in addition to providing labor, Local 176 and NECA's Eastern Illinois Chapter also made a donation of $1,000 to help pay for materials.

Ron Romero, a friend of Clemmons and Rico and the founding force behind the museum, says the IBEW was instrumental in getting the project off the ground, particularly with getting other trades on board to help out.

"Once the IBEW jumped in, it legitimized everything," Romero said. "Their name will remain here forever as a supporter."

Romero says the building originally had no outlets on the walls and that everything had to be switched on and off from the breaker box.

"We went from old shop lights to all new lighting and proper breaker boxes," Romero said. "They look great and, more significantly, everything is safe now. Aesthetics are important, but I'm mostly glad that I know everything has been done correctly."

Once it's finished, the museum will offer exhibits, including one on the history of Illinois guitars. It will also be home to a radio station and space for educational programming and musical performances.

"It's going to be a great multi-functional space, and it's our lighting that will showcase everything," Rico said.


Joliet, Ill., Local 176 members are powering a new rock 'n' roll museum at the start of historic Route 66 to honor the state's musical contributions.

Drive-Thru Picnic a Homecoming for Local 48 Members

Drivers rarely look as delighted behind the wheel as those who pulled into the parking lot of Portland, Ore., Local 48 on two sunny Sundays in July.

Slowly, they circled the union hall, inhaling the smell of barbecued brisket as they stopped at stations to pick up IBEW swag, fresh, hot meals and, for lucky raffle winners, big prizes.

"Everyone was so happy," said Local 48 Communications Director Tracey Powers, who conceived the idea of a drive-thru picnic. "It was a very fun environment. We haven't gotten to see our members in almost two years."

Last summer, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the local to cancel its traditional picnic, a much-anticipated festival of solidarity and family fun at a small amusement park.

Local leaders hated to think about skipping it again this year, but safety came first.

Then inspiration struck Powers: a way to have a celebration with little risk of spreading the virus.

She took her idea to the Executive Board and got a green light, along with a healthy budget — even if the support came with a dose of skepticism.

"Tracey is a good planner, but it was a big idea," said board member and journeyman wireman Kennitha Wade. "It was like listening to something in theory and wondering if it can be pulled off."

By all accounts, it was — and then some.

"It went flawlessly, and that's all due to Tracey," Business Manager Garth Bachman said. "It was pretty expensive, but it was worth it. Our membership loved it."

Powers nailed down every detail, from the catering and raffle, the stations and volunteers, the traffic pattern and a sign-up schedule with time slots assigned to members over the course of four hours on each Sunday.

Nearly 1,700 members, some with eager kids and dogs in tow, picked up meals for their families — averaging about four meals per car, she said.

Retired journeyman wireman Byran Sutherland was exuberant.

"I thought it was brilliant," he said. "The traditional picnic is a great time. But right now the world's in upheaval and we can't gather the way we have in the past."

Sutherland ached to mingle with his union brothers and sisters, the one thing the drive-thru event couldn't accommodate.

"It was so tempting to park and get out to visit," he said. "At least we got to see a bunch of smiling faces. And the food was so good."

On top of that, he had a winning raffle ticket, taking home a set of top-notch wireless headphones.

"The picnics always have big prizes," he said. "They try to focus on American-made. They're really thoughtful gifts."

Powers said members drew raffle tickets at the first station, where they also picked up IBEW T-shirts and "IBEW Proud Union Home" lawn signs.

Lucky tickets had numbers that corresponded to specific items waiting for winners at the last station, everything from iPads, smart watches and TVs to drills, blenders, coffeemakers, vacuums and more.

The community won, too, starting with the giant order of barbecue and side dishes catered by a family-owned business, McKillips's.

The company set up massive grills in the parking lot to prepare fresh chicken and brisket — "It was to die for," Bachman said — and enlisted high school baseball and volleyball players to package the feasts in exchange for donations to their teams.

For Sutherland, the innovative picnic "was one more thing that makes me proud to part of the IBEW."

"The organizers did a great job. They had the flow going perfectly," he said. "I think of it like a jobsite — our people are organized, they are smart, and they know how to get things done."


Business Manager Garth Bachman and executive board member Kennitha Wade had the happy duty of handing out fresh barbecue during Local 48's innovative drive-thru picnic.

Apprentice's Gratitude Earns
Pentagon Award for West Virginia Local

Thanks to an unexpected nomination by one of its apprentices, Charleston, W. Va., Local 466 recently was honored by the Defense Department for its strong support of its military-serving members.

The nomination came from Dakota Gonzalez, an apprentice who also serves with the 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion, a medevac unit attached to the West Virginia Army National Guard.

Gonzalez had been sorting through email messages to his Army account one day when he saw one from "Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve," calling for nominations for the National Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award.

The organization is a Defense Department program that promotes supportive work environments for workers who also serve in the Guard and Reserve; its Freedom Award honors employers that demonstrate that support.

Gonzalez knew he had to put forward Local 466 for the award. "I immediately filled out the [nomination] form and sent it in," he said, because the local has been extremely supportive of his growth both as an electrical worker and as a service member.

The apprentice was raised in a military household, he said, with his mother and one grandfather serving in the Navy and his other grandfather in the Air Force. "Also, when I was little, I remember when 9/11 happened," he said. "So, growing up, I felt a drive to join, too."

His family lived for a while in Fairfax, Va., before moving around — as military families often must — and eventually settling in Fayetteville, W. Va., within Local 466's jurisdiction.

After high school, Gonzalez attended the Fayette County Institute of Technology. That's where he met Local 466 member Danny Brown, who was an instructor there, and Thomas Samples, then-director of the Charleston Electrical Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee.

"Both helped me get into an IBEW apprenticeship," Gonzalez said, writing positive letters of recommendation on his behalf.

At the same time, Gonzalez was in the middle of a seven-year commitment with the National Guard, working as an aircraft electrician. "It all came together for me," he said.

As he filled out the nomination form, Gonzalez was mindful of the award's focus on an employer's personnel policies that make it easier for employees to participate in the National Guard and Reserve. While Gonzalez's Guard obligations sometimes conflicted with Saturday apprenticeship classes, he said, "Thomas went out of his way to help me out. The local couldn't have been better about it."

Then last year, Gonzalez's unit was deployed to the Middle East as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S. military's fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIL).

"During my entire deployment, the hall was helpful, real brothers," Gonzalez said. Fellow members sent so many care packages while he was there that some had to be turned away, he said.

With all this in mind, nominating Local 466 for the Freedom Award was a no-brainer, Gonzalez said, and he spent extra time on the essay sections to make as strong a case as possible.

Local 466 Business Manager John Epperly said that, with six paid office staff members managing a membership of about 400, Local 466 more than qualified for the "small business" category. And the local has one other reservist in its ranks: Christopher Myers, who is attached to the Army's 261st Ordnance Company in Cross Lanes.

Further helping to bolster the Local 466 nomination was the IBEW's support of the national nonprofit Helmets to Hardhats program, which helps connect men and women having a variety of military backgrounds with skilled training and quality career opportunities in the construction industry.

Also, the IBEW in recent years has begun offering its own program to help military members transition back into civilian life through the Veterans Electrical Entry Program. VEEP works with military leaders and JATCs across the U.S. to provide interested service members with about six months remaining on their commitment a chance to take a free, intensive seven-week training course as preparation for a possible IBEW apprenticeship.

"[Award organizers] also reached out and asked us what the IBEW does locally with the community," Epperly said. The business manager noted Local 466's participation in the IBEW's motorcycle rides through West Virginia to raise money for research into a cure for Alzheimer's disease as well as the members' relief efforts following the catastrophic floods that ravaged the state in 2016.

Epperly admitted it would have been quite a climb for Local 466 to become one of the up to 15 recipients of the Freedom Award. The ESGR notes on its website that it received almost 3,400 nominations of employers throughout the entire U.S., including the various territories and the District of Columbia.

Even so, Local 466 made it to the whittled-down list of national semi-finalists, along with West Virginia University's School of Medicine and Williams Energy, a natural gas processor based in Moundsville.

Although that turned out to be as far as the local got, as the top-nominated small business in the Mountain State it received the Department of Defense's Pro Patria Award, the highest honor that can be given by a state or territory's ESGR committee. (The Latin phrase "pro patria" means "for the homeland.")

Gonzalez has since transferred membership to Columbus, Ohio, Local 683; his fiancée was offered a job she couldn't pass up for great schools for her autistic son. Leaving Local 466 was hard, he said: "The guys there have been amazing."

The move also puts Gonzalez a bit closer to the 2-104th, which is based near Parkersburg, W. Va. "I just reupped for another six years with them," he said.


Apprentice electrician Dakota Gonzalez, grateful for Charleston, W.Va., Local 466's full support of his ongoing National Guard service, proudly displays the local's flag while on deployment in the Middle East last year.